Let’s be honest, there are moments before races (or any big event) when our nerves get the better of us. We start having thoughts like, “I wouldn’t be that sad if I twisted my ankle right now, and couldn’t run.” Of course, once we finish, these thoughts seem ridiculous. Why would we look for an excuse to not do the very thing we spent months training for?
Pressure can stem from several factors. Sometimes, the more we put into something and prepare, the more we have on the line when it’s time to perform. It’s also easy to second guess whether we prepared enough, and whether we “have what it takes” for race day.
During these times, I like to look back at my Fitbit data, so I can see all the hard workouts I’ve put in. It helps me relive my excitement, and gives me the confidence to know I am ready.
Another big factor contributing to race-related nerves can be the fear of failure. Rather than seeing the race as an opportunity to do something great (and even have fun!), sometimes it’s seen as a chance to fail. Perhaps you fear you might let someone down if you race poorly. Or maybe your performance dictates your entire identity, and you think that if you fail, that means you are a failure as person. (Which is just not true.)
The best way to free yourself of fear is to see yourself rooted in something other than what you do. For me, that is my faith. I’ve probably failed more times than I’ve succeeded in my career, and now I feel free to take big risks because I’ve separated “what I do” from “who I am.”
Regardless of why I feel race jitters, when they set in, I try to shift my perspective to one of positive excitement. Here’s a good example of it: I once heard a sports psychologist give the analogy of a man who was going for a dog-sled ride. When he approached the sled dogs with the musher, the dogs started going crazy, tugging at their chains. They all wanted to be the ones picked to pull the sled that day, to do what they were trained to do. The dogs weren’t fearing how painful or tiring their run would be, and instead were eager to feel the joy of going all out.
That is how we all should be: excited for the opportunity to do what we love, and have prepared for. Since I often run with my Siberian huskies, I’m constantly reminded of this perspective.
With my goal race—the TCS New York City Marathon—fast approaching, I know that when I land in NYC my heart will start beating faster in anticipation. But I’ll remind myself of the joy I feel when running and racing, and how wonderful it will feel to fly across the finish line.